by A. Millar
"Huge numbers of Britons would support an anti-immigration English nationalist party if it were not associated with violence and fascist imagery," The Guardian reported last week.
In a certain sense, English nationalism has emerged in opposition to the "neo-imperialism" or "neo-colonialism" of a militant wing that refuses to allow minorities to be English, preferring to keep them "minorities" to be used as political pawns. However, the association of English nationalism with anti-Islamism causes the most alarm: in hoping that radical, anti-Western Muslims would prove useful in instigating revolution, the far-Left has long allied with Islamist organizations.
The UK actually does have such a party: the English Democrats. Founded in 1998 by former Conservative Party member, and its current chairman, Robin Tilbrook, it won its first mayoral election in 2009, with Peter Davies elected mayor for the city Doncaster. In line with The Guardian's assertions, Tilbrook also believes his party has reached a "critical mass," and is poised to make further electoral gains.
The sudden interest in, and concern about, the possible appeal of an English nationalist party was almost certainly provoked by a recent Daily Star front-cover story a few weeks ago, in which the tabloid claimed that the English Defence League, an increasingly visible anti-Islamist protest movement, was about to form itself into a political party.
The Daily Star's reporting caused a considerable stir in the media and blogosphere, not least of all as the EDL's leader was quoted as saying only that they were not ruling out becoming a political party – which may have been an off-the-cuff remark. Since then, one of the tabloid's reporters has quit, claiming that the Daily Star peddled anti-Muslim bias and "hatemongering."
The Guardian's report on the potential appeal of an English nationalist party was based on a recently published Populus poll, commissioned by the Searchlight Educational Trust (an "anti-fascist charity" founded to collect data on neo-Nazism). The newspaper claimed that the findings showed "huge support for [the] far right" – even though it was forced to concede that more Asian Britons (39%) than White Britons (34%) wanted immigration stopped, at least until the economy improved. A "new anti-immigration party committed to challenging Islamist extremism," as well a regulations requiring that public buildings fly the English or British flag, would be supported by 48%.
It seems an extraordinary claim, and a gross exaggeration, to suggest that nearly half of the British public is "far-Right." However, hysteria over the EDL, and English nationalism more broadly, is becoming common. When David Cameron spoke at the Munich Security Conference a few weeks ago, Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, was one among many who pointed out that the EDL had demonstrated in Luton on the same day -- an inference that the Prime Minister had been pandering to the anti-Islamist movement, even though, in this instance, the timing was clearly coincidental. Yet, with the December Stockholm bomber only the latest Islamist terrorist to be traced back to the UK, how could Cameron have left the subject unmentioned, or not have promised to tackle the expanding Islamist movement in the UK?
Why does the idea of an English nationalist party provoke such hysteria?
Robin Tilbrook, observes "Englishness" is now "a more powerful brand than Britishness." He notes that although The Guardian attempted to connect the idea of "Englishness" to the "far-Right," "those who are racist have tended to talk about British nationalism. English nationalism has no history of being racist." Tilbrook believes that tackling Islamism, immigration, and other problems facing the country is "not even Right-wing." "These are things that people on the street are feeling more and more concerned about," he says.
The English Democrats chairman believes Britain is becoming "authoritarian," with citizens now running the risk of arrest for disagreeing with "state orthodoxy" – which has its roots in the militant Left, and evidently intends to use minorities to undermine Western traditions. Unsurprisingly, the English Democrats would like to see a return to "traditional civil liberties."
In contrast, many of those who portray Englishness as "racist" appear to be terrified of people thinking for themselves. Despite constant protestations that racism is growing, English nationalism seems to frighten the far-Left for the opposite reason -- precisely because it is bringing people of all backgrounds together under the banner of the nation and its traditional liberty.
The English nationalist inclusion of minorities shows up in different ways: The flag of the EDL, for example, often incorporates others flags or emblems, such as that of the Sikh religion, the rainbow flag of the LGBT community, and the Israeli flag. Although it has no association with the EDL, the English Democrats has also always been open to people regardless of race or ethnicity, or other personal preferences, and has had several Asian members run as candidates.
Although Tilbrook sees differences between American and English nationalism, he agrees that, "one area where America does provide some inspiration is the idea of national identity. Americans are seen to be very proud of being American, and that, obviously, is not about race." He also says that his party has "been looking with interest at the Tea Party movement. The Anglo-Saxon tradition – whether American or British – of small government, of letting people lead their own lives without too much interference from the state, is something that we certainly treasure."
Local pride also appears to be a feature of English nationalism. Different towns have created their own EDL "divisions," while, Tilbrook says, the English Democrats "would like to see people consider their own [local] community in how they would be represented in constitutional structures."
As a political notion, then, "Englishness" stands for both the modern (multiethnic, and so on) nation, as well as for the concerns of communities. As Tilbrook puts it, "'British' is the state, whereas 'English' is the idea of nation [the people]."
Notably, the English flag is also associated with sports: soccer, rugby and tennis – but mainly because Britain has national teams for England, as well as Scotland, and Wales. The phenomenon appears, then, to have one root in the soccer stadium: in the idea of the team, and being a team player. "I tend to think in terms of community," Tilbrook say, "but a team is a community, isn't it?"
The English Democrats chairman also connects English nationalism to sports, noting that when England won the soccer World Cup in 1966, the crowd waved British flags. Today, he says, you will only see the English flag being waved.
"You are likely to be talking to someone pretty elderly if they are talking about Britishness, rather than Englishness," he says. Sports are not the only reason. "It's partly because Britishness originally had to do with big power politics, and part of imperialism." The term "little Englander," used today to describe English people who are small-minded or xenophobic, derives from the Second Boer War, when it was used to designate those that stood against British imperialism and opposed the British Empire.
Nearly half the nation can be described as "far-Right" -- a number demonstrative of how Leftward Britain has shifted. English nationalism, although not a homogenous or unified movement, highlights that the tide is turning. Probably only the introduction of draconian laws -- making supporting it a crime for example -- could prevent it from growing. In the hysteria that is being whipped up, we might ultimately hear calls for more hate speech legislation, which has the immense disadvantage of preventing warnings – possibly urgent ones -- from being expressed loud and clear. Even this, however, would.
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